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Monday, 31 October 2016

Primitive Technology in Riddy Wood

The latest instalment of environmental archaeology and primitive technology students experiences in Riddy Wood comes courtesy of James Findlay.

The view of Riddy Wood as we approached
Dinner Time
Riddy wood sits on a natural prehistoric border between hills and ancient fen land. This was the perfect location for our hunter gatherer ancestors. I was on a trip here with the archaeology and primitive skills course at Rease Heath College. Coming here is the perfect opportunity to learn and practice skills learnt. Thousands of years ago this area would have been brimming with useful resources. We intended to use as many of these as we could on this trip to fully understand the mind-set of the people of the past and enhance our skill set. We rushed to set up camp between the trees while it was still light then cooked over the open fire.

Home Sweet Home
 The following morning, before I had emerged from my hammock, our lecturer Pete Groom told us our task for the day, to make an arrow using only stone tools! Riddy wood is full of useful resources so this was not too difficult a task. We first went out into the nearby fields and collected flint and churt. This was to be used for knapping to make our arrow heads. Pete asked us to imagine how the landscape would have looked thousands of years ago with hunter gatherers living in these very fields. To fit with the idea of a prehistoric landscape I found a knapped piece of flint that I was told would have been used as a scraper for skinning an animal. This find really made me realise how skilled our ancestors were in crafts almost forgotten.

We then walked the field boundaries to see what other resources were available for collection. Being autumn the trees were drooping with laden boughs of sloes, hawthorn berries, blackberries and apples. We collected as much as we could to take back to our camp to make into fruit leather.

The knapped arrow head in place. 
The arrow head has now been secured with a sinew thread. 
When we returned to camp we started work on our arrows. First we had to collect a straight piece of hazel for the shaft. This had to be done without using a metal cutting tool so I twisted a piece off from the coppice. After that we had to strip the bark. We had found a piece of flint perfect for the job with a semi-circular hollow with a bevelled edge cut into the rock. It did a better job than a knife at stripping the bark! 

Next we had to knap our flint, using soft hammers made from deer antler. You have to hit along the lines that protrude from the piece of flint. This causes fractures to form and very sharp fragments to break off that can be used to make tools. We continued until we had a selection to choose from and then we selected the best to be used in our arrow. I made a composite arrow, this means I had the main arrow head and then there are more pieces of flint bellow that to follow into the wound causing more damage. These weapons are brutal but effective; it just shows that the hunter gatherer world was focused on survival without any care for suffering. I split the end of my hazel to place the flint into the gap created. We then used sinew from deer legs to tie the end together and secure our arrow heads. All that was then left to do was the fletching. 

This proved to be the hardest part because it was difficult to keep all three feathers an equal distance apart. My efforts came out looking rather poor compared to some of the other arrows but I just need practice.

And finally the fletching
Overall each arrow turned out alright. Only using stone tools really made me realise how much we take for granted our modern tools that make a job so much easier. Even people who call themselves bushcrafters use pieces of modern kit that they couldn’t manage without. This exercise drove it home to me how utterly dependant we are on our society and the benefits it provides. True freedom can be gained by the knowledge that you have the skills to survive if all this equipment is taken away from us. That is why I am keen to learn all I can about the world around us so I can know that if everything is taken away from me except my knowledge then I would still be able to live comfortably with the knowledge of our ancestors.

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